Turning Point: Talent on the Sideline

The Bears had a chance to accomplish a lot with a win in Minnesota. A victory would have given Chicago a sweep of the NFC North. There was also a shot to set the franchise record for fewest points allowed and to finish with the No. 1 ranked defense. However, Lovie Smith decided that coming away from the season finale without injuries to key players was the top priority.

Seven starters were inactive against the Vikings, including S Mike Brown, CB Charles Tillman, DE Adewale Ogunleye and WR Muhsin Muhammad. QB Rex Grossman was in uniform, but the closest he got to go on the field was during pre-game warm-ups.

"This game was important just because you want to win a game," Smith said. "But what's important is that playoff game and Rex will be behind the center at that playoff game and that's an exciting thing."

The regulars that were on the field didn't play more than a few series. The result was the worst loss of the season, which leaves a sour taste heading into the postseason.

"We need our best football team at that playoff game and that was definitely the goal going into the game," Smith said.

The defense gave up more points (34) and yards (396) than they have all year. Considering the reserves had to play the majority of the game against Minnesota's starters, Smith put things in perspective following the game.

"There were a couple things that we would have liked to accomplished but not so much where we wanted to risk injury to some of our players," Smith said. "I think it's obvious who the best defense in the league is. We know that we are, stats don't say it I guess right now but I think we know who it is and we'll get a chance to show what type of team we have in that playoff game."

It would have been a fitting end to a great regular season to finish as the No. 1 ranked defense, but an injury to a starter in what amounted to a meaningless game in the standings would have been hard to justify. Even though breaking the franchise record for fewest points allowed would have been icing on the cake, it would have come at the risk of a Super Bowl run.

The only thing Smith wanted to achieve is to limit injuries heading into the bye week. The Bears had two players leave the game with knee sprains. RG Terrence Metcalf and S Brandon McGowan will have to be reevaluated on Monday, but they were the only new additions to an injury list that included as many as 14 players during the week leading up to the game.

Minnesota failed to take the lead until Smith pulled his starters. MLB Brian Urlacher and other members of the defense appeared aggravated about having to watch the Vikings march up and down the field against their replacements.

Smith can now turn the missed goals into motivation. Obviously being in the playoffs is an easy sell, but a little extra incentive to backup his words could spell danger for the Bears next opponent.

"We have a lot of things we can improve on," Smith said.

The Bears now have the luxury of sitting back and watching the playoffs from their couches next weekend. The time off will allow bumps and bruises to heal when the divisional round is set in two weeks time.


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